With little more than a week left until South Carolina Republicans make their choice in the party’s presidential primary, multiple campaigns made their pitch to a meeting of Christian conservatives at Winthrop University.
The Carolina Values Summit brought together campaigns with preachers to reach an evangelical audience combined by the Reconciled Church Movement and the North Carolina Values Coalition.
The highlights of the evening were addressed by two contenders in South Carolina’s Feb. 20 Republican presidential primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Cruz spoke early in the evening, focusing on the importance of “life, marriage and faith,” and what he sees as the “war” being waged against it by the federal government. Cruz told the crowd, “Christian values are more in peril now than at any other time.”
The June Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation was a particular focus of Cruz’s talk, and he used it to blast his Republican opponents Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, who he said had decided the court’s ruling made same-sex marriage “the law of the land.”
“You might as well light up the White House in rainbow colors,” he said.
“The Supreme Court didn’t create marriage. It was ordained by God,” Cruz argued, adding that when he becomes president, the court’s 5-4 decision “will not stand.”
The senator touted his record as Texas’ solicitor general as “pro-life” on abortion, when he defended a partial-birth abortion ban, a parental notification law and a measure defunding Planned Parenthood. A Cruz administration will follow a similar course at the federal level, he said.
“When I am president, I will order an investigation into Planned Parenthood, and we will prosecute,” Cruz said.
Carson received a warm reception from the crowd in Byrnes Auditorium, where he argued in favor of a flat tax inspired by the 10 percent biblical tithe.
“God said, ‘I want a tithe,’ and if the crops fail, you owe nothing,’” he said. “If you make $10 billion, you owe a billion dollars. If you make $10, you pay one. What could be more fair?”
When others call for the billionaire to pay more, “That’s called socialism, and it doesn’t work,” Carson said to applause.
Carson shared his personal story of a tough childhood being raised by a single mother, which has made him popular with Christian audiences, and the message it sends that “everyone of us is created by God.”
“If you look at the number of people in the penal system, it’s ridiculous, and they never got help,” Carson said. “Our adversity is not a problem, it is a strength.”
During a post-speech Q&A, Cruz also shared his personal story of growing up in a home where his father left his family for a while before he had a religious conversion. He also said he supports a sentencing reform measure moving through the Senate, but wants a distinction made in mandatory minimum sentences between violent and nonviolent offenses.
Cruz finished first in the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1 after upsetting frontrunner Donald Trump. He hopes to replicate that result in South Carolina’s GOP primary Feb. 20.
But Cruz’s campaign was accused of deceiving voters in the caucuses to take support away from one of his fellow candidates at Thursday’s summit: Ben Carson.
Cruz’s campaign told caucus-goers that Carson was dropping out the night of the caucus and convinced some to caucus for the Texas senator instead.
CNN reported earlier in the day that Carson would be leaving Iowa to return home to Florida, but did not indicate the candidate was dropping out. A Carson spokesman later clarified that Carson just needed to pick up some “fresh clothes” for the rest of the campaign.
Voicemails were sent out to some voters announcing Carson’s exit from the race, and one Monmouth University study showed that up to a third of Carson supporters switched their votes.
Carson later told CNN “whoever is responsible for blatant lying should be dismissed,” and received an apology from Cruz, whose campaign nevertheless maintains it only passed along information from CNN.
Speaking to reporters at Thursday’s summit, Carson played down his campaign’s struggles, including a 2-percent vote total in the New Hampshire GOP primary this week.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time there,” the candidate said. “I expect to get a better reception here.”
Protest before forum
Protesters gathered in front of Byrnes Auditorium before the Carolina Values Summit to inform attendees what they believe to be true family values.
Winthrop University students involved in Black Lives Matter and the Socialist Student Union handed out pamphlets.
A leader of the Socialist Student Union, Gabe Paxton, said he was there to address family values on a larger scale.
“For the conservative candidates when they talk about family values they tend to only focus on anti-LGBT rhetoric and anti-women’s rights rhetoric,” Paxton said. “We believe that is not family values at all, family values should actually be all encompassing and open to women’s rights and LGBT rights as well as touching on our systematic poverty and institutionalized racism.”
Protesters got into a heated discussion with volunteers working the event about differences on the issue.
Winthrop allowed outside organizations, including the York County Republican Party and Family Research Council, to rent tables under a tent which pushed protesters outside of the area. Although the area in front of Byrnes is a free speech zone, protesters were asked by police to stand to the side.
– Hannah Strong